MANY YEARS AGO, I used to visit Yugoslavia frequently. I stayed with friends in both Sarajevo and Belgrade. During almost every stay in Belgrade, several friends and I used to travel to the town of Novi Sad to eat good Chinese food in a restaurant called Szećuan. We used to order, and consume everything on its menu. This food was washed down with copious amounts of alcohol.
After one if these boozy lunches, we began walking to the railway station and as we passed a pub called Bar London, my friend Miša said to me: “It would be surrealist if you take us for a drink in this bar”. We had one or more ‘for the road’, and then staggered towards the station.
This memory was aroused by coming across the Restaurante Londres in central Funchal (Madeira). We ate dinner there. The food was excellent. For the first time in my life, I ate limpets. These aquatic snails were grilled in their shells with butter and garlic – they tasted wonderful. The other dishes we tried were so good that we have booked there again.
Returning to the past, if I recall correctly, there was also a restaurant or bar called London in central Belgrade, but oddly I never entered it.
I WAS FOURTEEN IN 1966. That year, Selfridges in London’s Oxford Street opened the Brass Rail restaurant on the ground floor, with windows facing Orchard Street. Its speciality was then, and still is, salt beef. I recall visiting the place once or twice with my mother back in the 1960s. In those days, I did not particularly care for the taste of salt beef. For some reason, maybe the cost of the place, we did not frequent the Brass Rail.
Winding the clock forwards several decades, I now enjoy eating salt beef occasionally. Today, the 22nd of March 2023, we needed to go to Selfridges for something, and as we were there, I suggested that we ate at the Brass Rail. Unsurprisingly, the eatery has changed its appearance considerably since the 1960s, but it is still located in the same part of Selfridges as it was originally. Its tables are enclosed in an area lined banquettes upholstered with red fitted cushions. The service was brisk and attentive. We ordered Reuben sandwiches in rye bread. These are generously filled with warm salt beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, gherkin, and Russian dressing.
The Reuben was enjoyable, filling, and quite tasty. However, I felt that the taste of the salt beef was overpowered by that of the dressing and the other ingredients. Good though it is at the Brass Rail, I prefer eating the bagels crammed full of salt beef, which are served at the 24 hour Beigel Bake in Brick Lane. At half the price of the Brass Rail, but without the great service, they are more than twice as enjoyable.
BANGALORE IS ABOUT 4800 miles from Paris (France). The French capital is noted for its gourmet delights, but on the whole the same cannot be said for Bangalore. One exception to this statement is Sunny’s restaurant currently located on Lavelle Road.
Arjun Sajnani created Sunny’s at least 25 years ago. Then, it was in a tall narrow house on a lane leading off Lavelle Road. The kitchen was on the ground floor and there were dining areas in the two floors above it. Often, Arjuna could be standing, working in the kitchen. Back in those early days, Sunny’s was one of Bangalore’s few suppliers of imported Western European cheeses, such as genuine parmesan.
Later, Sunny’s shifted to larger premises on the corner of Lavelle and Vittal Mallya Roads, next to a petrol filling station. The dining area was elegant.
For a brief period, Arjun ran a restaurant serving delicious Sindhi dishes in his original premises. Sadly, he decided to discontinue this interesting eatery.
Even later, Arjun shifted his restaurant to its present location – a two storey villa constructed about 20 years ago. The balconies on the upper floor are supported by stout carved timber pillars which remind one of pillars that you can see in much older traditional South Indian edifices. Diners can sit at tables within the building, or in the garden surrounding it, or on the first floor balconies. At lunchtime on Christmas Day 2022, every table was occupied.
At each of Sunny’s different locations, the food has been magnificent. As our daughter correctly said, eating at Sunny’s is as good as eating in a good Parisian restaurant. Also, Sunny’s Italian food (mainly pasta and pizzas) is above average in quality.
Arjun is an actor and director of theater and films, in addition to being a restaurateur. Dramatic productions require many skills. The same is the case for running a restaurant. Some of the required skills are the same for restaurants and for stage/screen. A restaurateur has to perform well both in the kitchen and the dining room to satisfy his or her clientele. Arjun achieves this successfully. If you have never been to Sunny’s, give it a try!
EVERY FEW MINUTES, a ferry traverses Goa’s Mandovi River between Panjim and the village of Betim. This free river crossing is for the use of pedestrians and those riding two-wheelers. The ferryboat is loaded via an elevatable ramp.
As soon as the ramp touches the concrete landing stage, a wave of pedestrians and motorbikes surge from the boat onto the shore. As they do so, the waiting pedestrians and vehicles swarm on to the ferry.
On arrival at Betim, we walked away from the landing place along a busy country road lined with shops, shacks, and much tropical vegetation. It was not long before we reached the small restaurant set back from the road, which had been recommended to us.
Although it was nearly noon, the eatery seemed rather lifeless. Eventually, we saw a man emerging from it. He showed us a menu. We asked him if all the dishes were available. He replied: “Everything is available.” After a pause, he added: “Today kitchen is closed.”
FOR SEVERAL MONTHS following March 2020, movement was restricted to within a short distance of home because of rules that were supposed to limit the spread of covid19 infections. Almost everything except food stores was closed. Socialising was frowned upon. And travel for leisure was not possible. Around about June 2020, things eased up just a little bit, and travelling became possible once more, albeit subject to various rules and precautionary measures. It was then we decided to buy a car to travel around without risking infection by using public transport.
After collecting our (pre-loved) car from a garage on the Edgware Road, we decided to drive up to see my wife’s cousin in Baldock (Hertfordshire). We asked him to recommend a nice country pub where we might be able to get something for lunch. He suggested that we tried Ashwell, which is about 4 miles northwest of Baldock. This pretty village has three pubs. Two of these were closed, and the remaining one did not serve food. We asked the rather melancholic barman to suggest somewhere else in the area. He pointed at the pub’s only customer, a gentleman seated at a table, and said: “You could try his place at Abington Piggotts – it’s only just up the road.” The man, Mick, told us that his pub was open and serving food. So, we drove a few miles to tiny Abington Piggotts, which is 3 ½ miles northeast of Royston. With about 80 households, the village has one pub, a free house called The Pig and Abbot. Housed in a century’s old building, this hostelry is a lovely example of an unspoilt country pub. We were given a warm welcome. We enjoyed a small snack and a drink and decided to return at a later date for a proper meal.
We returned and enjoyed excellently cooked food prepared by Mick’s wife Pat. It was so good that we began returning at regular intervals to enjoy Pat’s cooking. The Pig and Abbot, like all other pubs and restaurants, was subject to compulsory closures during the various ‘lockdowns’ that were imposed by the government, yet it has remained in business despite these interruptions. I am not sure how many times we have visited the Pig and Abbot, but each time has been as least as enjoyable as the others. It was not long before we began regarding Mick and Pat as good friends. Whenever we visit the pub, Pat gives us all a great hug when she sees us. Especially during the periods when lockdown restrictions were only partly eased, a visit to the Pig and Abbot provided a welcome respite from the gloomy atmosphere during the height of the pandemic. Whenever we drive along the country lanes leading to Abington Piggott, I have a warm feeling of gratitude because it was this countryside that lightened our lives during two years of covid-related misery.
Recently, we booked for Sunday lunch at the pub. Several days before we were due to eat at the pub, Pat rang. At first, we thought she was going to cancel us for some reason, but it was worse than that. She rang to tell us that Mick had died suddenly and completely unexpectedly. We felt devastated by this news. When we asked her whether she wanted us to cancel, she said ‘definitely not’. She had decided she must continue, and she wanted to see us. When we arrived for our lunch, the pub was full, Pat greeted us warmly, and her food was as excellent as usual. We will greatly miss Mick, and we wish Pat all the very best for the future.
KINGSLAND ROAD AND nearby in London’s Dalston area is rich in restaurants and other eateries serving Turkish food. Early in this century, “Time Out” magazine rated the Mangal Ocakbasi (now called ‘Mangal 1’) restaurant at number 10 Arcola Street as being one of London’s best Turkish restaurants. For those who do not know, ‘ocakbasi’ means ‘fireside’ and ‘mangal’ means ‘barbecue’ or ‘grill’. When we first went to Mangal, and for many years after that, there were tables alongside the long rectangular pit filled hot charcoal, upon which meat and vegetables are grilled. Recently, the restaurant has been redesigned and the grilling area is no longer alongside the tables.
The meat served is top quality. It seems far better than that served in the many other Turkish restaurants we have tried in London. Although there is a wide variety of main courses on offer, the range of ‘starter’ dishes on the menu is not as great as at some other restaurants. If it is starters and meze that you are after, the nearby Umut 2000 (on Crossway) is worth visiting. However, their main meat dishes are not nearly as tasty as those at Mangal in Arcola Street. Having said that, Mangal does serve an excellent freshly grilled aubergine hors d’oeuvre. Desserts are not available, but there are plenty of places along Kingsland Road offering a wide range of very sweet but tasty confectionery.
Our favourite dishes at Mangal are lokma, which is grilled rolled fillet of lamb, and yorgutlu Adana, which is pieces of semi-spicy Adana kebab in a yogurt and tomato sauce with lumps of Turkish bread. The lokma and other kebab dishes are served with generous quantities of fresh mixed salad containing many ingredients. As for drinks, you can bring your own alcohol or buy it from the restaurant. If I order a drink apart from water, I always go for Şalgam, which is a purple-coloured drink containing fermented turnip. This has a deliciously sour taste.
We first ate at Mangal in the early 2000s, when we attended a play in which one of my dental patients was acting. The theatre, The Arcola, was across the road from the restaurant, but has now shifted to larger premises on nearby Ashwin Street (close to Dalston Junction station). We loved the food at Mangal from the very first bite. We have been eating there occasionally ever since then, and the quality of the food has never once faltered. We have been there so often that the older members of its staff recognise us, welcome us warmly, and remember what we like eating. Even though this Turkish delight, frequently patronised by the artists Gilbert and George, is far from where we live in Kensington, it is well worth ‘trekking’ across London to get there.
EARLY IN SEPTEMBER (2022), I was eating spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) in a restaurant in Venice (Italy). The place where I was eating this delicious dish has many memories for me.
During the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, my parents took my sister and me for annual holidays in Venice. My parents were discerning eaters. Unfortunately, back in those now far-off times, there were very few restaurants in Venice which served food that met my parents’ approval. Eventually, they homed in on one place that they liked enough to return there for every evening meal (our accommodation provided lunch as part of our demi-pension deal). That restaurant is called the Antica Locanda Montin (‘the Montin’). According to its website, it has hosted celebrities including Modigliani, Ezra Pound, Robert de Niro, Luigi Nono, and David Bowie. Well, I did not know that when I used to dine there with my family.
During our recent trip to Venice, we found out that the Montin is still in business, and we booked a table for lunch. To my delight and amazement, the restaurant looks exactly as it did when I last visited it over 50 years ago. It does not seem to have changed one little bit. The front of the Montin faces a small canal. The dining room is long and rectangular. At the far end opposite the front door, a rear door gives access to a pleasant garden, where people can eat in good weather. The walls of the dining room are covered with framed paintings, many of them of great artistic quality. Apparently, they have been donated over the years by artists, who have dined in the restaurant.
I cannot remember what I used to eat at the Montin over 50 years ago. However, my spaghetti alle vongole was tasty and enjoyable. My wife and our daughter were also happy with what they ate. Our lunch was one of the better meals we ate during our four days in Venice. What I enjoyed even more than the food was discovering that the Montin looks as it did when I was much younger. I am glad that the place has survived the trying times we have been through recently and Italy’s various economic crises.
RAAVI KEBAB BEGAN serving Pakistani and Punjabi food in the mid-1970s. It is located on Drummond Street, close to London’s Euston Station. This unpretentious eatery with barely any internal decoration except some mirrors with Koranic verses engraved on them in Urdu script, is next door to the Diwana Bhel Poori House. It was at the latter that we used to enjoy Indian vegetarian dishes when we were undergraduate students at nearby University College London during the first years of the 1970s. In those days, Raavi, named after the river that flows through the now Pakistani city of Lahore, did not yet exist. It was only in the early 1990s that a friend visiting from Bombay suggested that we ate with him at Raavi’s. When the grilled kebabs arrived at our table, it was love at first bite. We have been returning to Raavi’s ever since.
Yesterday (1st of September 2022), we made yet another visit to Raavi’s. As we sat down, I noticed a thick wad of photocopies held together with a bulldog clip. They were resting on top of a neatly folded shawl. Out of curiosity, I looked at the top sheet, which was a page copied from a book with annotations added in red ink. I looked more carefully and noticed that the printed text was in Italian. The page was headed “<De ingratitudine> Joanni Folci Niccolaus Maclavellus”. It is a chapter (‘The ingratitude of Joanni Folci’) from a book by Niccolò Machiavelli (aka Maclavellus), who lived from 1469 to 1527. The rest of the text on the photocopied page appeared to be a learned commentary on Macchiavelli’s chapter.
I do not know why, but I felt that Raavi’s was the last place I would expect to find scholarly papers lying about so casually. I associate the place, as do most of its many customers, with grilled meat and spicy masalas. I asked the waiter about the papers. He shrugged his shoulders and said that someone must have left them behind after eating, and that he had no idea whether anyone would return to retrieve them.
BETWEEN LANCASTER GATE and Queensway, at the corner of Bayswater Road and Leinster Terrace, there stands number 100 Bayswater Road, which was built in 1820 and was the home of the author JM Barrie (1860-1937) from 1900 onwards. It was here close to Hyde Park that he wrote “Peter Pan” as a play in 1904 and as a novel in 1911. It is worth wandering along Leinster Terrace and its continuation Leinster Gardens.
Almost opposite Barrie’s home but a little north of it is number 74 Leinster Terrace. It was here that the American author Francis Bret Harte (1836-1902) lived and died. He had settled in London in 1885. Northwest of this house and on the south corner of the Terrace and a passageway called Craven Hill Gardens, there is a Greek restaurant that has long intrigued me. It is called Mykonos and has the Swedish words “Kalle på Spången” written on it in several prominent places. This is the name of a well-known Swedish film made in 1939, in which a character called Kalle owns and runs a pub. Formerly called Zorba’s, it was closed in 2017 because of hygiene problems. Now (2022) called Mykonos, it looks as if it is no longer in business. It also bears a sign with the name of a Swedish County, Skåne, in which the inn that figures in the film was located. Unless it was to attract Swedish tourists, I am not clear why this Greek restaurant associated itself with a Swedish film. North of the restaurant, Leinster Terrace becomes Leinster Gardens.
Much of the west side of Leinster Gardens is lined by Victorian terraced housing with neo-classical features. Close examination of numbers 23 and 24 reveals that unlike their neighbours on either side, the windows do not have glass panes. Where the windowpanes should be, there are painted blanks. These two houses in the terrace were demolished when the subterranean London Underground lines were being built in the 1860s. The façades of numbers 23 and 24 have no building behind them. They hide a ventilation shaft that provides air to a section of the Circle and District lines running between Bayswater and Paddington stations. By walking along Craven Hill Gardens west to Porchester Terrace, which runs parallel to Leinster Gardens, you can see the featureless rear of the fake façade and beneath it you can just about see the tracks of the railway.
Moving north along Porchester Terrace, you can see number 30, which is adorned with a sculpted lion and some lion heads. It was here that the family of the author Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) moved from Hampstead in 1830, when he was six years old. Collins’s father, William Collins (1788-1847) was a painter, whose paintings at one time exceeded those of John Constable in value. Another artist, John Linell (1792-1882), a friend of William, lived a few doors north of this at number 36 from 1830 until 1851. Many years later, this house was occupied by the photographer Camille Silvy (1834-1910) between 1859 until 1868.
Not far away from Porchester Terrace and close to Queensway, a sculpted bust of a man in a distinctive helmet stands on a plinth at the corner of Inverness Terrace and Porchester Gardens. This depicts Albania’s most highly regarded hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg (1405-1468), who defended his native Albanian territory from the invading Ottoman armies for a few years.
Between Peter Pan’s birthplace and the monument to Albania’s national hero is a few feet more than one third of a mile on foot. Yet in this short distance, there is much to see. This is what makes London such a fascinating place in which to live.
THE BYRON RESTAURANT chain, which specialises in serving burgers, has a branch next to the Adelphi Theatre on London’s Strand. I have not eaten there but I did peer through its street door. What I saw is quite amazing. The ground floor dining room’s walls have giant mirrors separated by marble pilasters. The ceiling beams look like marble , although it is unlikely that they are made of that material. The grand dining room has a decadent fin-de-siècle appearance, providing your eyes are averted from the banquettes upholstered with red leather, or perhaps plastic, which are quite appropriate for a burger joint.
The large façade of the restaurant has pink granite pillars on both sides. On one of these, there is a commemorative plaque that reads:
“Site of the Adelphi Theatre Restaurant owned by the Swiss-Italian Gatti family, restaurateurs, music hall, theatre and electricity supply entrepreneurs. Sir John Gatti served as Lord Mayor of Westminster, 1911-12.”
The Adelphi Theatre is still in business, but its neighbour, the Adelphi Theatre Restaurant, is now the Byron outlet. Carlo Agostino Gatti (1841-1897) and his brother Stefano Gatti (1844-1906), father of Sir John, ran the Adelphi Theatre, the Adelphi Theatre Restaurant and the Vaudeville Theatre all in the Strand (www.londonremembers.com/subjects/gatti-family). Carlo and Stefano came from Ticino Canton in Switzerland. Another Gatti, Gaspare Antonio Pietro Gatti, known as ‘Luigi’, came to London from Montalto Pavese in Italy, where he was born in 1875. He is supposed to have managed the restaurant at The Ritz Hotel, as well its concessions on two ships, one of which was the ill-fated Titanic. Whether Luigi was related to the brothers is uncertain.